Sankar Pani of Natural Justice participated in a National Consultation on the Protected Areas and Forest Rights Act (FRA) on 12-13 August, 2012, in New Delhi. The consultation was organised by the Future of Conservation Network (FoC), a network of ecological and social organizations and individuals committed to the effective and equitable conservation of biodiversity. FoC's objective is to foster dialogue and engagement in complex conservation issues, and to help tackle increasing threats to both biodiversity and livelihoods.
The basic objective of the consultation was to discuss the issues relating to poor, improper, and/or non-implementation of the FRA in protected areas such as Sanctuaries, National Parks and Tiger Reserves. Many participants suggested that the Nodal Ministry should appoint an independent committee to review the implementation of the FRA in protected areas. They also emphasised that until the recognition process is completed no person should be evicted or relocated from their existing occupation and residence.
Other issues which surfaced during the consultation included:
- Limited recognition of community rights under the FRA in protected areas, BRT sanctuary in Karnataka is an isolated case where the community rights of Soliga tribes have been recognised;
- While the claims are pending before appropriate authorities, the relocation process for Tiger Reserves are also continuing which is a violation of the FRA’s guarantees of people’s rights over forest land to be protected until a rights recognition process is completed;
- The Critical Tiger Habitat guideline needs to be compliant to FRA;
- The Critical Wildlife Habitat Protocol which was put in place in 2007 and its replacement draft protocol put in place in 2011 ignore many vital objectives of the FRA under which the protocol is in place;
- In states like Gujurat, the implementation of the FRA in Scheduled Areas and not in Non-Scheduled Areas is a matter of great concern;
- Communities other than Scheduled Tribes and pastoralist communities have not had their rights respected under the FRA;
- Alternative land has not been made available for relocation despite the official policy to do so;
- Government agencies have not raised awareness on the FRA amongst communities in Pas and activists and NGOs have been prevented from working in the area;
- The habitat rights of Preemptive Tribal Groups (PTGs) have not been recognized to date nor has there been any clarification in this regard from the Nodal Ministry;
- In Maharashtra, communities’s ability to transit through and produce non-timber forest products has been restricted in the buffer zone of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve. Some people have been blocked from their own villages through new gates and regulations.